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Middle Management

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with various organisation & stakeholders. I was lucky to have worked with some of the best and also the worst. You might think what one might gain when working with worst. It actually helps you identify the distinguishing factors that makes an organisation to what they are. If one has only worked and associated with best in class, streamlined organisation, it would be impossible to visualise what is missing and what were the reasons for some of the practices being followed. Well you might get in the long run, but having an opportunity first hand makes it huge learning and the ability to see how it thrives on challenges and issues while the other disintegrates and requires a reboot.

In my experience while it is clear that the senior leaders (Directors, VPs, CxOs) are key to set the strategies and cascade the organisation vision, mission into practical, achievable targets to the departments, a lot of the responsibility still lies in how effective the middle management actually are in implementing them. By middle management, I mean the department heads and program/project manages and how effective they are in terms of understanding the short & long term goals, setting out plans and utilising all available resources. Also they play major role in identifying and building new organisation capabilities in order to meet the objectives.

But in some of the organisation I have seen, the middle management ineffectiveness were apparent and although the impacts may not be visible at individual departments, when looking at the organisation as whole, it is proving to be disastrous. The ineffectiveness itself could be due to number of reasons and cannot all be attributed to the competency of the individuals who is playing the role. That is a separate subject and we can discuss that in another post. This post is specifically focuses on what the symptoms are to identify such scenario and likely impact it may create.


These are some of the symptoms to identify ineffectiveness.

Find a responsibility and hide behind

As the name suggests, they are happy doing routine jobs, they actively look for routine & mundane jobs and take ownership of doing them. For e.g.

  • Filling forms & doing day-to-day paperwork required for things like on boarding new staff, granting & revoking access permissions, etc
  • Taking ownership of circulating auto generated reports.
  • Providing approvals for day to day tasks.

While some of these are essential, the main difference is in trying to hold onto them rather than looking at the long run and proactively automate or delegate them. If you can sense a bit of insecurity in these communications it is a good sign that the role is not adding required value to the organisation.

No Initiatives / Innovation

There is unlikely to be request for additional budget for any new initiatives and innovation will be close to NIL for individual department. Even if there are few, it might be just to meet the objectives rather than a whole hearted passionate effort.

Ego & Power struggle

There is likely to be a bit of tension between department leads resulting in lack of co-operation between them. The lack of co-operation will show in terms of pouncing on others mistakes while playing down (or quite) own mistakes, making very strict and impractical demands on other departments to meet own objectives, etc.

Conflict of interest

Individual’s job security will take precedence over organisation objectives / interests. This will result in lot of the effort going in showing their importance rather than actually helping organisation. For e.g. a potential error which could have been caught earlier would be left too late to get the maximum exposure before finding them out.

Unable to get the best out of Vendors

In situation like these the 3rd party vendors will usually hold upper hand rather than in-house department leads. The business (stakeholders) seem to have more trust in vendors rather than their own departments and its leads. This impacts the organisation very badly as it is unlikely to get the value out of the spending on vendors.

Poor or No decision support system

When there is a need for some of these departments work together to meeting an immediate & urgent business need, there is likely to be chaos. For e.g. if the business needs a report which requires provisioning a new server (IT), installing applications which are maintained by separate departments and creating and releasing a new report, this will likely result in,

  • Out of control emails with most of the executives/stakeholders in the distribution list for every step of the journey.
  • Dependency on key individual within the department to run the show.
  • Involvement of senior leaders required to sort out basic issues. (statements like “I am happy to do it, provided x is happy to approve” – this is a killer. As a department head, one is expected to be expert and understanding impact of his actions and also the overall organisation objectives, and be able to make a judgement. When this fails, the obvious question raises need for the role itself?).


This is not a complete list but shows some of the dangerous symptoms and its effects. It is up to the senior leaders to look for these and align their organisations effectively in order to eradicate the root causes for these. I will try to list out some of the root causes for these and recommend corrective actions in subsequent posts.


One response to “Middle Management

  1. Arun June 16, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    Went through this write up now and feels as if I am watching an old movie again…People just needs money and power…nothing else matters…
    Well written and spot-on…

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